Don’t Trust the Promise of Artificial Intelligence

Debate Overview

As an investor, I once financed a group of computer scientists applying machine learning and statistical analysis to outperform the stock market. It took us four or five years to beat the averages by mere hundredths of a percent. This was not a huge advantage. On the other hand, our small team of six was outperforming teams that would typically employ hundreds of professional analysts and portfolio managers.

That experience raised some interesting questions about whether machines might ever truly be intelligent enough to replace human experts, and whether that would even be good for us. On March 9, 2016, Intelligence Squared U.S., in a co-presentation with 92nd Street Y, took on this case during the 7 Days of Genius Festival, assembling a panel of experts to debate the motion, “Don’t Trust the Promise of Artificial Intelligence.”

The Debaters

Arguing for the motion were Andrew Keen, internet entrepreneur and author of The Internet Is Not the Answer, and Jaron Lanier, computer scientist and author of Who Owns the Future?

Arguing against the motion were James Hughes, executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, and Martine Rothblatt, chairman and CEO of United Therapeutics and author of Virtually Human.

The Research

Citing a consensus viewpoint among economists and researchers, Keen and Lanier argued that developing machines to displace labor would have disastrous effects. Unable to create value for themselves, humans would go jobless and starve; society would break down. They also questioned whether the promise of artificial intelligence was being presented accurately and honestly. They alleged that monopolistic companies were propagating an impression of these machines as freestanding intelligences, when the reality was that these tools merely aggregated and rehashed human intelligence. For example, translator applications work by continuously scraping translations performed by millions of human professionals. Rather than giving credit to this human element and paying these people, the tech giants were shrinking the economy needlessly by pretending that humans were no longer necessary.

In contrast, Hughes and Rothblatt highlighted the positive potential for artificial intelligence to improve navigation and health care. They asserted that technology must not be held responsible for determining socioeconomic outcomes but must itself be directed according to a society’s values to work either for or against the public interest. Reframing artificial intelligence as an extension and codification of human capacity, they argued that it would be futile to try to preserve a human job by disallowing the use of a machine. What if a machine could do the job more safely and efficiently? To take the argument one step further, they looked at the elimination of labor as both inevitable and beneficial. Rather than degrade human value, artificial intelligence could liberate people to pursue more interesting occupations.

Pre-Debate Poll Results

Prior to the debate, 30 percent of respondents voted for the motion, while 41 percent voted against, and 29 percent were undecided.

Post-Debate Poll Results

After the debate, the vote in favor increased to 59 percent, while the vote against dropped to 30 percent, indicating a considerable shift in one direction, with victory going to the team arguing for the motion.

To view or listen to the full IQ2US debate, visit: http://intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/past-debates/item/1494-don-t-trust-the-promise-of-artificial-intelligence